Dark, rainy afternoons. Feet under blanket. Austen. The Bronte sisters. Dickens. Hardy, Thomas not Ollie. Brooding, plain-looking men with intelligent eyes and mocking smiles. Women with proud tilt of a slender, white neck, and mouths that were not rosebuds meant for saying just yes or no. Lots of grey, weather and attire. Untamed shrubbery. Parsonage and vicars. Panting, star-crossed lovers. Unabashedly emotive conversations; each sentence a squeal of love or sorrow. Rich men, poor women; poor men, rich women; endearingly predictive equations. Dissatisfied wives. Eloquent discourse on love and religion. Cruel, authoritarian relatives with a favoritism towards middle-aged aunts. Moors. Long walks in the garden. Courting as opposed to dating. Dressing for dinner. Intense gazes. A lot of swooning. Chimneys. Law books. Hansom cabs. Maids in waiting. Delicate laces and fans. Stubborn people. Opinionated people. Difficult childhood. London. Paris. Voyages. Sisters, similar. Women who want to write. Whirling petticoats. The trials of the fallen rich striving to manage with the bare necessities of at least two maids, one as a constant companion and ro brush one’s hair at bedtime, and the other to help with the mundane household chores, along with the undeniable requirement of a cook and if residing in the countryside, a gardener. One can have four personal employees to cater to comfortable living, and still be poor.
Victorian literature and its aforementioned charms had occupied a large and unregretted portion of my reading life, and I have re-immersed into this world of haughty, intelligent heroines with Elizabeth Gaskell’s ‘North and South‘. I have been reading the trials of Margaret, a poor vicar’s daughter, whose adolescence was spent under the care of an aristrocratic aunt in London. She was just back in her country home, revelling in the blue skies and trees that whispered to her, when her father made the hard decision to relocate to an industrial town in the north of England. It was a contrast to all sensibilities and elements that Margaret had been exposed to. Smog colured the skies of Milton and its people preferred hard labour in the mills and factories, real work, to spending leisure time reading Homer. They were bold and boisterous, spoke clearly and with a frightening frankness. She wore old silk, they wore cotton. Margaret was prejudiced towards their surface crudeness, till she found a ‘human interest’, a friend. She met a reluctant opponent of her ideologies in John Thornton, a wealthy mill owner, who valued hard work and competence above everything, while she struggled with the humane side of the industrial revolution.
I am occupied with studying for my exam in November and can manage a reading pace of no more than ten pages everyday, so I am just halfway through the book. But what I have read so far has caught my interest; Victorian literature by a woman, that is distinctly ‘not‘ Austen or a Bronte. I have been so immeresed in Margaret’s world for the past few days, it’s a wonder I am not wearing corsets and grey silk bonnets yet!